S'pore on track for number portability

Previously delayed, Singapore's plans for a central number database is now on track to be ready by the second quarter of 2008.

SINGAPORE--The country's plans for a mobile number portability database is on schedule and will be launched in mid-2008, assures a government official.

Boasting a mobile penetration rate of 110 percent, Singapore last year called for tender submissions to build a centralized database to facilitate number portability across the local fixed-line and mobile market.

Although number retention is currently available to subscribers who switch carriers, this deployment does not involve "true" number portability as calls are forwarded from the subscriber's old number to the new one. When the subscriber makes outgoing calls or sends a text message, his old number is not reflected via the other party's caller ID function.

The centralized database will allow for "true number portability", enabling users to switch mobile carriers without having to change their phone number or acquire a new one, said Singapore's Infocomm Development Authority (IDA).

The country's ICT regulator had initially planned to complete the project before the end of this year, but later moved the launch date to the second quarter of 2008.

According to an IDA spokesperson, this decision followed discussions with the participating operators.

"The mobile and fixed-line operators have given feedback that they would need a reasonable amount of time to conduct and complete the extensive works and tests," said the spokesperson last week via an e-mail interview.

He added that the IDA had gathered feedback which highlighted the heavy network traffic that usually occurs during the year-end festive period, making it an unsuitable time for system testing. This led to the IDA's decision to delay the rollout, he said, noting that the centralized database is still on track to be launched in the second quarter of next year.

U.S.-based Syniverse Technologies was appointed in June 2007, from a shortlist of six contenders, to develop and operate the centralized database for seven years.

According to Leong Keng Thai, the IDA's deputy chief executive and director-general of telecoms, number portability will help heighten market competition amongst the operators. "Telecoms service providers could offer more compelling reasons to attract new customers or keep their existing customers," said Leong, in a statement released in August last year.

Other countries in the region including Taiwan and South Korea, have also implemented--or have plans to introduce--a central number portability database.

More recently, Malaysia said it expects its plans for number portability to be completed by the end of next year.

Frost and Sullivan research analyst Siu Keat Chak, said in a January 2007 research paper that number portability will benefit both existing operators and eventual entrants. It will lower the barrier for subscribers to switch carriers, Siu said, and may lead to further price-based competition among operators looking to deal with a potential increase in subscriber churn.

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